A warm breeze drifted through the door, stirring the envelopes she had spread out on the table. Dianna rose to shut the door, catching a glimpse of Syra sitting outside with her back resting against a tree and her eyes fixed intently on the lesson book in her lap.

"I'll come out in a minute to help you with your lesson, Syra!" Dianna called. "I just need to sort these letters so they can go out with the local post this afternoon."

She settled back down at the table, surprised and pleased to find a letter addressed to herself and Syra. Breaking the seal, she skimmed the paper.

Dear Dianna,

Thank you for your last letter and sharing the news about Marta. Pass on my congratulations to her! Although, you can tell her that I already knew she would be accepted into any Ostrean Academy of her choice! I intended to write much sooner, I swear, but we have only just now passed a trading post where we could leave it in trustworthy hands. The past few months have been the busiest ones of my life!

We delivered the shipment of medicine safely to several of the smaller rural towns. The people were so grateful, especially one mother and father who actually hugged Vance and Carinth (in their dragon forms!) when we gave their child a dose. It gave me hope to know that gratitude and love can overcome fear.

Immediately afterward, the king sent a captain and his squad to us with orders to chase down a certain gang of thieves and apprehend them. They had been terrorizing the villagers, haunting the countryside surrounding one of the major trade routes, and vandalizing the merchants for months. After tracking them for almost three weeks, we finally confronted them. I broke my arm during the fight, but neither of the dragons was harmed. I can't say the same for the thieves. The captain and his men took them to a nearby outpost, awaiting the king's order to escort them to a secure jail where they will await his verdict. The outpost received a homing bird with a message from the king, which told us to report back to the capital city for further orders. It's a wonderful system they have to relay orders from the king to his officials and command posts. For some of the lesser tasks we have been given, we have felt like an overgrown extension of the pigeon system, but lately we have been given so much excitement we can hardly complain, except being tired and stiff! Before we left the outpost, the captain assigned me one of his best men to travel with us and complete my sword training once my arm has completely healed.

As we headed back to the castle, we discovered a village that had been burned to the ground by the band. Carinth and Vance helped fell trees and move them for the villagers who had lost their homes. They were wary, but most were grateful. A few men refused help and scorned the dragons. I had been so encouraged by the gratefulness of the sick villagers that the hostility from these men bothered me anew. Some of the captain's men were also hesitant about working alongside a dragon. (During the skirmish with the thieves, they looked awfully glad that Vance and Carinth were fighting for, and not against, them!) I suppose that change just takes time. And as the saying goes, while there's life, it's never too late.

Anyway, I hope you are enjoying the tasks of postmistress and that Syra is doing well with her lessons. Vance and Carinth send their love.

Sincerely, Kaylein

Dianna smiled at Kaylein's causal rephrasing of the proverb about life and folded the paper back up. When Syra had finished her lessons for the day, she and Dianna could celebrate by reading aloud the news from Kaylein and sharing a cup of their favorite hot tea.

At that moment, the door flew open. Syra stood there panting, with her hair rumpled from the wind and her book tucked under her arm. "Dianna, there's someone who wants to talk to you."

Dianna pushed back her chair and followed her outside. Standing there, wearing an enormous pack, was a man with a lean frame that nonetheless had muscles bunching underneath his tan, bare arms. The style of breeches and sleeveless tunic he wore were more reminiscent of Athelis than Ostrea, but that fashion hadn't been popular in either country for years. In fact, from the faint discoloration to the worn seams, his clothes looked more like an antique. On them and on the man lingered a scent that was undetectable to a human nose, but that was unmistakable to Dianna.

The scent of a dragon.

"Are you Slytha?" he asked hopefully, turning his glowing eyes toward her. "Who is called Dianna?"

"Yes. I am she."

"My name is Rynus, and I come from Athelis." He knew that she would have recognized his scent and known what he was immediately.

Full-blooded dragons found small talk meaningless— Dianna had clearly not inherited her talent for it from her father— so she decided to respect his ways and dig right to the heart of why Rynus had come. "How may I help you?"

He crouched down slightly, which would have been accompanied in his dragon form by the tail movements that indicated deep thought. (It looked very odd in a human form, and Vance didn't do it, but Carinth had done it enough over the course of the last few months for Dianna to think little of it.) "I never knew peace could exist between humans and dragons," Rynus said, twitching thoughtfully. "And I didn't think I wanted it. But after hearing word spread of you, your brother, and his mate, of what you had done, I wanted to find it myself. I want our race to continue, and it can't without peace."

Dianna echoed his words, partially to clarify them and partially because of her own wonder. "You want peace."

"Yes," he said, swinging the pack down from his shoulders. Rynus unfastened the leather straps that held in place the flap of fabric that covered the opening. Cradling the bag gently in his arms, he shifted it so Dianna could see inside. "I want it for him or her."

Syra, who had been listening in silence, exhaled a small laugh of wonder. She gently reached out to touch the speckled blue surface of the egg nestled inside the pack. "It's beautiful."

"Yes, yes, it is," Dianna whispered, placing her hands on Syra's shoulders and staring in awe at the orb, so full and ready to burst with fresh life.

The dragon looked up at her solemnly. "There are others who have heard about you and want to come to Ostrea, to find and fight for what you have fought for and found. Some have no desire. They just want to hide in the mountains and holes until they die of old age. Others want to die fighting and causing ruin, killing as many as possible in vengeance before they are killed themselves. But some of us—we want life. Will you speak for me, and the others who will come, before the king? That we may keep our dragon forms and who we are, as well as our lives?"

That was the choice Dianna had been faced with Athelis: give up her identity to survive, or kill and die as a dragon. She didn't want Rynus, or his offspring, or any other dragon to have to make that choice.

"I will," she said solemnly. "I will promise you that."

"Less than eleven of us still live. Some think it's too late for our race," said the dragon. It was clearly a plea to be told otherwise, to be proved wrong. And the proof was in front of them. It was in Marta studying math and science to better lives instead of taking them. It was in Vance, Carinth, and Kaylein moving around the country, fighting prejudice against dragons and helping those in need. It was in the sun that glistened off the egg and Syra's eyes, lighting up the hope that was in her face. It was in every single one of them.

"While there's life," Dianna said, a smile spreading across her lips. "It's never too late."

The End